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Benjamin Bannan (1807–1875) purchased the nearly defunct Pottsville Miners' Journal in 1829. He moved to Pottsville. He owned the newspaper outright for 37 years, and contributed articles to it until his death. [Wallace, Anthony F. C. St Clair—A Nineteenth Century Coal Town's Experience with a Disaster-Prone Industry (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1987), page 67]. "Benjamin Bannan found the Journal in a very precarious state of existence, and in the hands of the sheriff. He bought the establishment at private sale for $800, and to its list of 250 subscribers he sent his first paper on the 29th of April, 1829. Devoting his personal attention to the compilation of coal statistics, he very soon gave the paper a right to its name—the Miners' Journal and Schuylkill Coal and Navigation Register. The position of the Journal as an advocate of a protective tariff made it a very acceptable exponent of the interests of the producers in the coal and iron fields, while the statistical tables, fresh and complete, make it authority in two continents." [History of Schuylkill County, PA, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. New York: W. W. Munsell & Co. 1881, page 268.]
"The principal newspaper of the Whigs and mine operators in the region was the Miners' Journal, of Pottsville, edited by Benjamin Bannan. Bannan, a militant Welsh Presbyterian, not only vigorously defended the interests of coal capital but also launched ugly attacks against the Irish. In the 1850s he charged that the majority of paupers in Schuylkill County were Irish and that the cause of their condition was intemperance." [Miller, Donald L., and Richard E. Sharpless. The Kingdom of Coal: Work, Enterprise, and Ethnic Communities in the Mine Fields. University of Pennsylvania Press 1985, page 150.]
Bannan was connected with the newspaper for nearly 44 years; he sold half of his interest on July 1st, 1866, and the other half on January 1, 1873. See the Biography of Benjamin Bannan. See also: "Nativism, Labor, and Slavery: The Political Odyssey of Benjamin Bannan, 1850–1860," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, CXVIII (October 1994): 325–361.
Here is the biography of Benajmin Bannan as it appears at pages 163–165 of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania; genealogy—family history—biography; containing historical sketches of old families and of representative and prominent citizens, past and present (J. H. Beers, Chicago 1916), pages 163–165:
"BENJAMIN BANNAN, journalist and political economist, was bom in Union township, Berks Co., Pa., April 22, 1807, and died July 29, 1875 (and is buried in the Charles Baber Cemetery at Pottsville). His father was a farmer and teacher, occupied in agricultural pursuits during the spring, summer and fall, and teaching in the winter. He died when his son was but eight years old. Benjamin went to school only about two years altogether during the next seven years; for at that time schools were open for onlv three or four months a year, during the cold weather. It was at Unionville that he became inspired with the idea of becoming a printer and editor, from reading the Village Record, to which the teacher subscribed. Having acquired the utmost that was taught in the schools of that day, at the age of fifteen he was indentured to learn the printing business in the office of the Berks and Schuylkill Journal, of which George Getz was proprietor, remaining there six years. During his term the same industry and honesty of purpose and action which characterized his whole life won the regard of his preceptor, who eventually asked him to become his partner and associate in business. Meanwhile, at the close of his apprenticeship, he had repaired to Philadelphia, where he worked in several printing offices, finally in the establishment of Lawrence Johnson, the celebrated type founder, where he added the art of stereotyping to his already thorough knowledge of printing. After a visit to Reading, where he received the offer already noted, he thought it advisable to decline it, and directed his steps to Pottsville. On his arrival there he found the office of the Miners' Journal in the hands of the sheriff; and, believing that this was a fair opportunity and a field for future operations, concluded to purchase it. Almost all his ready funds were invested in this enterprise, and the subscription list numbered but 250. This took place in April. 1829, and he was connected with this one paper nearly forty- four years. On July 1, 1866, he disposed of a half interest in the establishment, and, wishing to retire from business, in January, 1873, sold the other moiety; nevertheless his attachment to the Journal was so great that he continued writing for the paper and attending to the coal statistics, as when he was sole owner. The number of subscribers had increased to over four thousand, and its weekly circulation was only exceeded by that of three other political journals in the State, outside of the larger cities.
"Mr. Bannan's first vote was cast for John Ouincy Adams for president, in 1828, and he voted at every succeeding presidential election as long as he lived, and always in opposition to the Democracy. Indeed, during his whole life he never voted for a Democrat when there was a contest between the political parties. He was always a firm and undeviating supporter of protection to American industry, and proposed and organized the first tariff league in 1840, after the disastrous effects of the first compromise bill had become apparent; which led to the adoption of the tariff of 1842, the most beneficial measure, in many respects, ever passed by Congress. In 1841 and also in 1861 he collected signatures to the longest petitions ever laid before the national legislature, praying for protection to home industry. For fifteen years he held the position of school director, and for fourteen years was president of the board. During this period he suggested to Governor Pollock the present admirable normal school system of the State, in all its details, which was afterwards adopted. It is justly claimed for him that he was the first to propose a plan for a national currency; as far back as 1857 he first originated it and published a series of articles on the subject. His views were communicated to several prominent bankers, who acquiesced in his suggestions and admitted that such a currency as he proposed would be the best obtainable, but thought his scheme could not be carried out, as the States had usurped from the general government the power to issue money and as the latter had so long acquiesced in their action the States would never surrender it. He even prepared circulars embodying his views and distributed them among the two houses of Congress, but they received very little attention from any of the members. Four years elapsed and the war of the Rebellion broke out, and the national currency became a necessity. He communicated with and afterwards visited Secretary Chase, recalled the circular, and compared it with the bill Secretary Chase had prepared, and the latter was found to be in perfect accordance with Mr. Bannan's plan of 1857, except in a few unimportant particulars and one important feature not incorporated in the bill — the intro- duction of an expanding limit. This was not done, as it was impossible to foresee what the exigencies of the country might demand. The idea of having an issue of currency in proportion to the wealth of the country and expanding it on that basis seems to have been original with him. It was submitted to the late Stephen Colwell, of Philadelphia, who was also a writer on currency, and who had collected all the works written on currency and money, in all languages, from all countries, numbering more than seven hundred volumes and pamphlets, and in none of them had he observed the expression of a similar idea.
"As a thinker and writer on important public matters Mr. Bannan belonged to an advanced school, and earned for himself an honored and respected name; and wherever he was known, either at home or abroad, his opinion and advice were solicited and made use of. As a practical man he was farseeing and liberal, and was ever among the foremost in proposing and carrying out ideas and projects tending to the improvement and advancement of his fellow men, particularly of the laboring classes. As a writer on matters pertaining to the coal trade, his experience of over twoscore years in the anthracite region fitted him with special and peculiar qualifications. As a coal statistician he was the foremost in the country. The trade grew up with himself, and in reality it had almost become second nature to him ; particularly on account of the use he made of the opportunities that fell in his way in the matter of statistics. On coal his figures and tables are made use of in every publication in the country and abroad. In two large works he is not only quoted, but highly complimented, and his tabular statements given are conclusive. As a high test of the value of the statistics he collected in the coal trade, we need only refer to the fact that the Bureau of Statistics at Washington on several occasions honored him by asking him to furnish them with information on this important subject. The great work which he undertook to publish, and which he had prepared for publication principally by Samuel H. Daddow, mining engineer, Mr. Bannan only furnishing the statistics and outlines for the same, is entitled. 'Coal. Iron and Oil.' It was the most expensive single volume issued by any publisher during the Rebellion, reflects great credit upon him. and elicited from the London Mining Journal the statement that no single volume ever published in England affords so much information on the subjects treated of in that publication.
"Influenced by the peculiar circumstances of the time, Mr. Bannan eventually published a monograph on 'Our National Currency and how to improve it,' which takes the ground, as originally suggested in his first circular in 1857, of adopting an expanding limit to its issue, keeping the paper issue unconvertible into coin on demand hereafter, but allowing a proportion of it to be received in payment of duties; the legal tenders of the government to he received in payment of taxes and debts due to the government; the issue of national banknotes to be apportioned to the several banks in proportion to their wealth; the fractional currency to be cancelled and a debased silver coinage substituted which would, therefore, always remain at home; this was done in England nearly fifty years ago, and as a consequence England has always retained her silver. These features may strike the average reader as being somewhat novel and startling at first, but Mr. Bannan discussed his propositions so clearly and forcibly that by many it is believed they will be received with more favor as they are studied and comprehended by impartial and unbiased minds. 'Sir. Bannan was a worker all his life; it was only when he could no longer hold the pen that he at last suffered it to drop from his fingers. In losing him the country lost a man whom it cannot replace, and whose merits will always be acknowledged."
For a perception of Benjamin Bannan from the viewpoint of Irish immigrant coal workers, see: Molly Maguires by Dugas. Herd is an excerpt from Political Notes on page 5 of the New York Herald of Thursday, May 19, 1870:
"Benjamin Bannan, the veteran editor of the Pottsvile (Pa) Miners' Journal, is proposed as a candidate for Congress. An opposition paper calls him "a pugnacious old snarler." Just the man, then, for Congress."
The Schuylkill County Historical Society maintains an index of obituaries in the Miners'; Journal. A volunteer of the Society was kind enough to check this index for any McGoughs or Fitzpatricks. Only one name was found: Ann McGough, wife of Terence McGough, who died in St. Clair on June 11, 1865. The Miners' Journal contained a one line (free) notice of her death. The absence of notices of the deaths of many other McGoughs and Fitzpatricks in Schuylkill county supports my impression that communications between the Catholic church in Schuylkill county and the Miners' Journal was almost nonexistent. In the issues of the newspaper I examined, there were death notices from churches of several protestant denominations, but not a single notice from a Catholic church.
In 1855, the newspaper was published each Saturday. Each edition contained four large pages. Advertisements were on the front page. News items from surrounding communities were usually on the second page. Bannan's style was to mix news items and editorial comment in the same article. His writing style was always literate, although his use of commas was sometimes befuddling.
I have read the issues of the Miners' Journal and Pottsville General Advertiser from Saturday, April 14, 1855, through Saturday, June 16, 1855. I chose this time period because my great-grandfather, John McGough, married my great-grandmother, Catherine Fitzpatrick, in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, on May 20, 1855. The marriage took place at in St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Pottsville. There was no reference to the marriage in the newspaper, nor any other reference to McGoughs or Fitzpatricks. There was considerable evidence in these issues of the newspaper of antagonism between the editor on the one hand, and the Irish immigrant population and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church on the other hand. The excerpts below illustrate this antagonism.
During April, May and June, 1855, Bannan usually used the phrase Irish ruffians to describe the poor and illiterate Irish emigrants who caused trouble in Schuylkill county. In 1857, he began to use the name Molly Maguires to describe those same Irish ruffians. Here is part of an article on the Molly MacGuires—"How Did They Get That Name?"—from an article by Joseph H. Bloom in April 2000 American History Magazine entitled Undermining the Molly MacGuires:
"In 1857 Benjamin Bannan, editor of the Schuylkill County Miners' Journal, brought the name to the attention of the American public when he used it as a term for all the aspects of the Irish character that he found unsavory. He kept the name alive for several years in newspaper articles with headings such as 'A Molly on the Rampage' and 'Molly Beating.'"
Although I found nothing specific in these issues of the Miners' Journal that might explain the decision of my great-grandparents to move west to Wisconsin, the following excerpts show that the establishment newspaper in Schuylkill county did not create a welcoming environment in the 1850s for Irish Roman Catholic emigrants .
In the April 14, 1855, issue, Bannan published an article entitled The Catholics and Common Schools. The opening sentence reads: "Some idea of the manner in which the Roman Catholics would control our Common Schools, if they had the power, may be obtained from the following extract ..." The extract describes a school taught by nuns and under the supervision of a priest supported by public funds that would not allow inspection by the County Superintendent of Schools. The article closes with this comment: "As a matter of consequence, the State appropriation has been withdrawn from this school ... Served them right, will be the verdict of the great mass of the people, from one end of the State to the other!"
In the April 21 issue (page 1), there is this notice:
$500 REWARD.—The subscriber offers Five Hundred Dollars for the arrest and conviction of those persons who set fire to a block of Miners' Houses at his works, on the Yoe tract, on Sunday night last, April 15th.
Pottsville, April 21, 1855 M MURPHY
On page 2 of the April 21 issue, a story entitled Strike, Riotous Conduct and Incendiarism gives the background of Mr. Murphy's ad:
"Last week there was a strike for higher wages at the Colliery of Mr. Murphy, on the Yoe Tract, about a mile from this Borough, among the miners and laborers employed there. Mr. Murphy immediately called the striking hands together and discharged them. They are all Irishmen, and their places were supplied by an equal number of German and English.
"Subsequently, some of the discharged miners, made unsuccessful efforts to be re-instated in their former situations. Enraged at the refusal of Mr. Murphy to have anything more to do with them, they meditated revenge in some shape; and finally on Sunday night last, about 12 o'clock, they made a ferocious attack upon a block of miners' houses, situated at Mr. Murphy's Colliery, and fired them. The houses were completely destroyed.
"We further learn that the discharged miners, implicated in the above outrageous incendiary act, on Monday last waylaid some laborers on their way to work and threatened them with violence, if they continued to work in Mr. Murphy's colliery. The new hands engaged in the place of the Irishmen, are still at work.
"In our opinion, the aid of the military will be soon required again, if the lawless bands of men which infest the County, continue their apparently fearless defiance of law and order."
In a long article entitled Papist Sophistry on page 1 of the April 21 issue, the editor refers to "the thousands of Jesuitical priests, unfaithful shepherds who seek an aggrandizement of their own power, rather than the spiritual welfare of the flocks committed to their care" and asks: "When will the laity of the Catholic church have the manliness and independence to crush the despotic power which enslaves and degrades them?"
On page 2 of the April 28 issue, an article called The Boyne Waters, the editor responds to a complaint that the Sheriff permitted the playing of the Orangeman's air: The Boyne Waters while a party of Irishmen arrested on suspicion of being involved in a murderous assault were being escorted to jail, and thus provoking a riot:
"Our opinion of the matter is, that in this country, we happen to be Americans and not Irish, and are at liberty to play exactly what air suits our fancy, under whatever circumstances, without consulting the tastes or prejudices of members of certain foreign factions. And even in some instances of which our citizens are cognizant, if the air referred to has been played under provocative circumstances, the act was induced by threats which fully aroused the spirit of those threatened.
"Here, we are disconnected from the national victories of England and every other European country; and entertain but few sympathies in common with strifes and bickerings of factions in monarchies, and whether we choose on an occasion of the recent Branchdale affair, to have our military led by either 'Yankee Doodle' or 'Boyne Waters,' is a matter entirely optional with ourselves, and which we trust, we have the right to decide upon. ...
"We know that a large body of the adopted citizens in our midst will coincide with us in our opinion in regard to this matter. In this country, we have and exercise the privilege to play whatever tune we please, even if it proves distasteful to some few foreign ears.—Hence, we see nothing but what is exceedingly commendable in the recent prompt action of the Sheriff and his posse, and can discover no impropriety in the selection of airs played on the occasion"
Here is a notice that was published on page 4 of the April 28 issue and page 2 of the May 12 issue:
"$500 REWARD—WHEREAS, threatening and inflammatory notices by writing and characters have been posted at several points in the vicinity of my colliery in St. Clair, intended by threats of violence and death to deter the peaceable, industrious and worthy miners and laborers from returning to their employment; and, whereas, such conduct is a high crime punishable by imprisonment for years in our Penitentiary; now, I hereby give notice that I will pay the sum of FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS to any person or persons who will give me information that will lead to the arrest, imprisonment and conviction of the author of said notices, their aiders, abettors, or of such persons who shall be guilty of attempts to carry out said threats of violence as aforesaid. WILLIAM H. JOHNS
"St. Clair, April 26, 1855".
In the May 26 issue (page 2), this article was published under the heading The Recent Disturbances at Mr. Murphy's Collieries—Arrest of Several of the Rioters and Incendiaries:
"On Friday last, information was conveyed to Alderman Reed in reference to the perpetrators of the recent outrage at the Yoe Tract, during which three blocks of buildings, the property of Mr. Murphy, were fired and destroyed. The names of the men charged with being prominent in the perpetration of incendiarism, and deporting themselves in a riotous manner, are we learn as follows:—John Ryan, James Ryan, George Witaker, Patrick Witaker, Patrick Haily, William Holligan and James Harris.
"Immediately upon the reception of the information, implicating the above named men, the County Commissioners ordered out a military force, and placed it under the command of Officer Christ, subject however to the directions of Mr. Murphy. Mr. M accompanied the forces to the residences of the accused at Westwood, on Saturday morning last, at 4 o'clock, where they succeeded in arresting George Witaker, Patrick Haily, James Ryan, and James Harris; but have failed for the present in securing the persons of Pat'k Witaker, John Ryan and Wm. Holligan.
"Those secured, were brought into Pottsville on Saturday morning, by the military, and were held for further hearing.
"We understand that Mr. Murphy has replaced the buildings destroyed, by new structures, which are now tenanted.
"The prompt action of the authorities in this affair, cannot be too highly commended; and we trust that equal promptness may always distinguish their efforts to curb the turbulent spirit prevalent in this County, among a certain class. The law must be enforced energetically, to inculcate a feeling of fear if not respect, in the ruffians who infest this Region."
In the May 5 issue (page 3), under the title Who Fill our Almshouses?, these statistics are presented:
Whole number in Almshouse, 499
The editor comments in the article:
"It is observable that the majority of foreigners who occupy our Alms-houses is Irish; Germans coming next, and English, Welsh and Scotch last of all. There are but few of the latter class of foreigners compared with the Irish, which speaks volumes for the difference in the character of the immigrants,—With such facts before us, is it all wonderful that a desire to check pauper immigration should prevail?"
In the June 2 issue (page 3), the editor, under the title Irish Pauper Emigration, comments favorably upon a suggestion of May 9 by the U.S. Consul at Cork, Ireland, that the U.S. Congress require emigrants "to procure a certificate from the nearest United States Consul to their European residence, of their not being paupers and convicts, but able-bodied, respectable persons, capable of maintaining themselves."
In the May 12 issue (page 1), this article appears under the title Another Irish Row:
"On the 1st instant, the miners employed at Gordon, Bedell & Co.'s Colliery, at Woodville, 'turned out,' and ever since have made that place the scene of a series of wanton outrages. They have beaten men in the employ of the Company, and acted so badly, that several terrified female residents of the place, some of them wives of Gordon, Bedell & Co.'s employees, have declared their determination to leave the place. Here is a beautiful state of affairs. People driven from their houses by Irish ruffians. If the laws are insufficient to protect quiet, peaceable residents, and crush the desperadoes that prowl through the country, seeking what they may destroy, our citizens should take the matter in hand, and bring the lawless offenders to justice. We are becoming weary of recording the acts of violence which weekly are brought to our attention. We hope a stop will be promptly put to them."
On page 2 of the May 12 issue is a report of another row under the title Another Desperate Assault at Cumbola:
"Last Saturday night about 12 o'clock, on the road just above Cumbola, an attack was made on two Welshmen named David Bowen and Isaac Jacobs, by four Irishmen named Michael Mooney, Michael Kenner, Richard Nash and Daniel Quirk. During the affray, and while one of the Welshmen was prostrated upon the ground, and being dreadfully beaten by the Irishmen, he drew a revolver and fired six barrels into the midst of his assailants, wounding three of the attacking party. Nash was shot through the neck in so dangerous a manner, that his recovery is critical. Mooney received two balls in his abdomen, and is in dangerous condition. The third Irishman was but slightly wounded. All were intoxicated at the time of the assault.
"It is a matter of regret that in view of the cowardly and unprovoked nature of the attack, that all were not shot.* Some such severe lesson is needed to teach the Irish desperadoes that infest Schuylkill County, that quiet inoffensive residents will not submit to outrage and violence tamely.—Cases of this character are becoming entirely too frequent. Let the strong arm of the law be invoked to protect peaceful residents.
"P.S.—David Bowen, who used the revolver, is badly bruised and wounded; but will recover.—The wounded Irishmen, we understand, are in a fair way to recover from their injuries."
*In a follow-up article, the editor said that he did not intend to give the impression that he was advocating lynch law.
On June 9 (page 2), under Death in the Mines, the Miners' Journal reports:
At the McGinnes' Shaft, St. clair, an explosion of fire damp took place on Thursday last, dreadfully burning five miners, two of whom have since died. As no further particulars of the occurrence have reached us, we are unable to state the cause of the distressing accident "
The article was retracted on June 16 (page 2):
"McGinnis Shaft.—We state with great pleasure that the report of persons having been killed in this Shaft by an explosion, published in the Journal last week, is incorrect. An explosion did take place by sheer carelessness; and the person who caused it acted directly contrary to the instructions he had received from the Superintendent of the Colliery. Fortunately it did but little damage and only three persons were slightly injured. Our information was derived from a person who stated that he saw the two persons dead. It is exceedingly annoying both to persons interested and ourselves, to publish at any time incorrect statements of local occurrences, and we request all who favor us with information of that character, to be particular in having it correct in every respect. But little satisfaction attaches to publishing accounts that are either exaggerated or in the main untrue."
Updated May 14, 2013
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